Gene therapy for human genetic disease?

Science. 1972 Mar 3;175(4025):949-55. doi: 10.1126/science.175.4025.949.


In our view, gene therapy may ameliorate some human genetic diseases in the future. For this reason, we believe that research directed at the development of techniques for gene therapy should continue. For the foreseeable future, however, we oppose any further attempts at gene therapy in human patients because (i) our understanding of such basic processes as gene regulation and genetic recombination in human cells is inadequate; (ii) our understanding of the details of the relation between the molecular defect and the disease state is rudimentary for essentially all genetic diseases; and (iii) we have no information on the short-range and long-term side effects of gene therapy. We therefore propose that a sustained effort be made to formulate a complete set of ethicoscientific criteria to guide the development and clinical application of gene therapy techniques. Such an endeavor could go a long way toward ensuring that gene therapy is used in humans only in those instances where it will prove beneficial, and toward preventing its misuse through premature application. Two recent papers have provided new demonstrations of directed genetic modification of mammalian cells. Munyon et al. (44) restored the ability to synthesize the enzyme thymidine kinase to thymidine kinase-deficient mouse cells by infection with ultraviolet-irradiated herpes simplex virus. In their experiments the DNA from herpes simplex virus, which contains a gene coding for thymidine kinase, may have formed a hereditable association with the mouse cells. Merril et al. (45) reported that treatment of fibroblasts from patients with galactosemia with exogenous DNA caused increased activity of a missing enzyme, alpha-D-galactose-l-phosphate uridyltransferase. They also provided some evidence that the change persisted after subculturing the treated cells. If this latter report can be confirmed, the feasibility of directed genetic modification of human cells would be clearly demonstrated, considerably enhancing the technical prospects for gene therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arginase
  • Cytogenetics
  • DNA / therapeutic use
  • DNA, Viral / metabolism
  • Enzyme Therapy
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Eugenics*
  • Fibroblasts / enzymology
  • Galactosemias / drug therapy
  • Genes*
  • Herpes Simplex / enzymology
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / therapy*
  • Phenylketonurias / therapy
  • Thymidine Kinase / biosynthesis
  • Transferases
  • Tumor Virus Infections / enzymology


  • DNA, Viral
  • DNA
  • Transferases
  • Thymidine Kinase
  • Arginase